UPSCALE OR NOT, NO SHORTAGE OF SHOPPING

Burlington County Times, October 8, 2001

It seems frivolous after September 11 to be thinking about shopping, but anyone driving on Rte. 73 south of the Marlton Circle can’t help but notice what a friend of mine has dubbed the Taj Mahal. She’s talking about The Promenade, a new up-scale outdoor shopping mall currently under construction. Consisting of seven buildings, including a free-standing restaurant, the retail center will total 277,100 square feet on 44.8 acres.

Actually, it’s not a shopping mall but what the developer calls a “lifestyle center.” As someone who tends to buy her kids’ jeans at Wal-Mart rather than The Gap and her underwear at K-Mart rather than Victoria’s Secret, I can’t help but wonder whose life style they’re referring to.

The developers of The Promenade have emphatically insisted in print that the stores will be full price and not discount. They’ve done their market research and determined that our area can not only support these kinds of stores, but needs them. I even read one report that compared the demographics of our area to the Main Line.
I checked out some demographic figures on income, and based on what I found on-line, it’s not surprising that our area is considered a prime spot for up-scale retail stores. The estimated median household income of Burlington County is $3,000 more than that of New Jersey as a whole, $11,000 more than Camden County, and $15,000 more than the U.S. as a whole. It is almost identical to that of the Main Line. In addition, the four Burlington County towns closest to The Promenade – Evesham, Medford, Mt. Laurel, and Moorestown – all have median household incomes higher than those for the County as a whole. Medford and Moorestown are $12,000 more than the County average, and Evesham and Mt. Laurel are $4-5,000 higher.

I’ve always heard that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. I hope the researchers haven’t been misled by the statistics on home sales and income in this area. While it’s true that it’s nearly impossible to buy even a new townhouse for less than $200,000, it’s also true that we are able to support both a K-Mart and a Wal-Mart directly across the street from each other, and Target is being built right down the street from The Promenade. When several K-Marts were being closed in South Jersey a few years ago, I asked whether the one on Rte. 70 across from Wal-Mart would also be closed. I was told that it wouldn’t, as it was one of the few in the area still making a profit.

In a way, we’re schizophrenic. Gourmet food stores like Zagara’s and Fresh Fields thrive simultaneously with discounters like Trader Joe’s and Produce Junction. It may be a lot easier to find a parking spot in front of The Gap than Wal-Mart, but both stores seem to be doing okay. We have more than our share of inexpensive buffets and fast food places, along with restaurants that require “proper attire” and a hefty credit card limit. Our incomes may be high, but so are our expenses.

I generally hate shopping. One trip to the Moorestown Mall usually holds me over for at least six months. But I have to admit that I’m looking forward to the openings of two of the new stores, L. L. Bean and Coldwater Creek. I tend to buy quite a bit of my clothing from the on-line catalog versions of both places, mainly because neither place assumes that any woman who needs a size larger than a 12 must be six feet tall. Both stores carry most of their sizes in petite lengths. As someone who is too heavy to be pleasingly plump and too short to be Rubenesque, I appreciate their size range.

The first stores in The Promenade are scheduled to open in November. Obviously, they were planned long before September 11. I just hope that the statistics do tell the whole story and that the “Taj Mahal” – which was a mausoleum, not a temple – doesn’t become an empty white elephant.

On reflection, perhaps it’s not so frivolous to think about shopping at this time. People may need diversion, may need “comfort,” the same way they look for favorite foods in time of crisis. The stock market has begun to rebound to its previous levels. Despite the pall that hangs over all of us, we yearn to return to some form of “normalcy.” New, fancy stores may be just what we need right now.

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